The brightly colored buildings, cobblestone streets and historically preserved colonial architecture will capture your eyes the minute you arrive. Central America’s oldest Colonial city is nestled between Lake Nicaragua and Volcan Mombacho, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. There’s so many things that will tug at your attention in this city. In no particular order, here’s my top 5 things to do in Granada if you’ve only got a few days to spend.
1. Eat your heart out at the ChocoMuseo
Follow your nose to the CocoMuseo (Chocolate museum) inside the Mansion de Chocolate. The museum style chocolate factory offers “Bean to Bar” chocolate making workshops and full day tours to nearby cacao plantations. Here you can learn about the history of the cacao bean from the Mayans and Aztecs. You’ll also get a chance to break and grind the cacao beans by hand. No trip to the museum is complete without tasting the array of chocolate delicacies on display. From coffee bean chocolate bars to jalapeño infused chocolate sauce, the CocoMuseo is truly a chocolate lovers paradise.
2. Visit all three major Cathedrals
It’s not surprising that most people leave the city only having visited the frequently photographed Cathedral of Granada in central park. It’s central location and recently refurbished yellow exterior will draw you in. However there’s at least two other cathedrals that are beautifully preserved and packed with history all within walking distance of the city center. La Merced was one of the most revered churches in Granada for almost 300 years until its main tower was destroyed in 1854. And Iglesia de Guadalupe was once used as a fortress by William Walker in 1856 during the infamous American filibuster.
3. Buy a hammock at Tio Antonio’s Central Social
It’s easy to miss the brightly colored hand-woven hammocks in the doorway if you’re just passing through the city. Step inside and you’ll find hammocks being woven by nearly a dozen people that are deaf and hard of hearing. Tio Antonio’s Central Social sells an incredible variety of swinging chairs and hammocks to suit any size – all hand made by people with impaired hearing. Visitors can learn about the history of the social mission, add their contribution to the largest hammock in history, and try weaving a hammock of their own. When you’re finished learning and shopping, be sure to grab a bite to eat nextdoor at Cafe de las Sonrisas. The friendly restaurant staff will greet you in sign language and offer ear-plugs to get a feel for their world without sound. Tio Antonio’s center to empower and employ people people with disabilities is worth going out of your way to visit.
4. Cruise the islands on Lake Nicaragua
There’s an entire water world that exists among the 350+ volcanic formed islands in Lake Nicaragua along the outer edge of Granada. Some islands are getting snatched up by wealthy investors and turned into private estates or boutique hotels with boat only access. Among the “isletas” there’s a local school and a small cemetery too. Jump on a panga with a local boat captain off the malecon and you’ll quickly see another world unfold where laundry is hand-washed on cement corrugated washboards and fisherman dive with nets. (Note to travelers – Please don’t feed the monkeys, they are dangerously overweight.)
5. Swim in Laguna de Apoyo
Nicaragua’s deepest swimming hole is actually a water filled crater of the now extinct Apoyo Volcano. The lake is an estimated 200 meters deep and 4 miles in diameter. The dry tropical forest that surrounds the volcanic crater is home to over 500 species of flora and fauna. Indigenous artifacts and petroglyphs have been discovered within it as well. Nicaragua’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) declared the crater lake a national nature reserve in 1991. Established resorts and hostels like the Monkey Hut, offer kayaks, inner-tubes and swimming access to floating docks for aspiring travelers and lake lovers.